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Diesinger v. West Pikeland TWP.

September 2, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stengel, J.


Jeri Diesinger, a former employee of West Pikeland Township, claims she was wrongfully terminated in retaliation for certain public statements she made regarding the township's financial situation. West Pikeland has moved to dismiss. The issues are whether Ms. Diesinger's statements are protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and whether the Pennsylvania Constitution creates a private cause of action for alleged violations of the right to free expression. I will grant the motion and dismiss the complaint.

I. Background

Jeri Diesinger was employed by West Pikeland Township from on or about March 5, 2007 to on or about October 31, 2008. (Compl. ¶ 7.) She held the position of Township Manager. (Id. ¶ 8.) Her job performance was excellent, and she fulfilled all of her employment duties and obligations. (Id.)

In June 2007, a local youth association sent a letter to the township requesting a soccer field for the township's youth. (Id. ¶ 9.) In November 2007, the township's Board of Supervisors resolved to build a new soccer field. (Id. ¶ 10.) As Township Manager, Diesinger's duties included overseeing the township's finances and ensuring the decision to build was implemented. (Id. ¶ 11.)

In January 2008, three new board members were elected to the Board of Supervisors. (Id. ¶ 12.) These new members halted the building of the soccer field because they wanted to look into the project and get more information from the youth association. (Id. ¶ 13.)

Ms. Diesinger alleges she was fired for certain statements she made during public meetings of the Board of Supervisors. The first occurred on or about July 21, 2008. Three members of the township's Finance Review Committee stated (falsely, according to Plaintiff) to the Board that the township lacked sufficient funds to build the requested soccer field. (Id. ¶ 14.) Ms. Diesigner corrected the misstatement and informed the Board that there were sufficient funds to proceed with construction.

The second incident occurred at another public meeting of the Board of Supervisors held on or about August 18, 2008. Certain Finance Review Committee members had again falsely represented the township's ability to build the soccer field. (Id. ¶ 16.) Ms. Diesinger responded by characterizing the Finance Review Committee's assessment as inaccurate, and she "stated her intention to provide the [township] with an accurate financial report in order to demonstrate that the [township] indeed had sufficient funds in the budget to build the requested field." (Id. ¶ 17.)

On or about August 27, 2008, Ms. Diesinger met with members of the Finance Review Committee and a member of the Board to discuss the township's financial situation and to show that sufficient funds existed. (Id. ¶ 18.) On October 31, 2008, Diesinger was "abruptly" terminated from her position. (Id. ¶ 19.) She was told the Board decided to make a change because they "had some complaints from some of the committees." (Id.)

On March 20, 2009, Ms. Diesinger filed her complaint against West Pikeland. It contains two counts, which are claims for violations of her right to free speech as protected by the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions. West Pikeland moved to dismiss on the grounds that Diesinger's speech was not protected by the First Amendment and the Pennsylvania Constitution does not provide a private cause of action. (See Mem. to Dismiss (Document #7) at 4--6.) West Pikeland also moves to dismiss any request for punitive damages. (See id. at 6.)

II. Standard of review

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted examines the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). The factual allegations must be sufficient to make the claim for relief more than just speculative. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 US 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007). In determining whether to grant a motion to dismiss, a federal court must construe the complaint liberally, accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id. See also D.P. Enters. v. Bucks County Cmty. Coll., 725 F.2d 943, 944 (3d Cir. 1984).

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a plaintiff to plead in detail all of the facts upon which he bases his claim. Conley, 355 U.S. at 47. Rather, the Rules require a "short and plain statement" of the claim that will give the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Id. The "complaint must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1969. Neither "bald assertions" nor "vague and conclusory allegations" are accepted as true. See Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); Sterling v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Auth., 897 F. Supp. 893 (E.D. Pa. 1995). The claim must contain enough factual matters to suggest the required elements of the claim or ...

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